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Mohamed Salah ended a four-match goal drought for Liverpool with a sublime strike that secured a nervous 1-0 Premier League victory away to Huddersfield on Saturday.
Salah has struggled for consistency this season, and was a doubt for the trip to West Yorkshire after suffering a hamstring problem while on international duty with Egypt during the week.
But in the 24th minute he steered in Xherdan Shaqiri’s pass to score his 50th goal in English club football, ensuring Liverpool ended Saturday level on points with league leaders Manchester City.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp could be pleased his players showed the strength of character required to see out victory over a team coached by his long-time friend David Wagner, but there were only fleeting glimpses of the free-flowing attack that lit up the Premier League last season.
Then again, this was something of a mix-and-match Liverpool line-up.
Perhaps with Wednesday’s Champions League home match against Red Star Belgrade in mind, Klopp freshened up his front line, restricting Roberto Firmino to a late substitute appearance.
Sadio Mane was not risked after having surgery on a broken thumb during the week, so Daniel Sturridge made his first league start for Liverpool since last November, and midfielder Adam Lallana his first since New Year’s Day.
– Genuine class –
Klopp had warned this match, against opponents without a home goal since April, could be a trap, and he was right to be wary. Wagner knew just how to make life difficult for the title hopefuls, setting Huddersfield up with a back three and leaving them tight on the visitors’ front trio.
It was to Liverpool’s credit that they fashioned a goal of genuine class to break down stubborn opponents midway through the first half.
Shaqiri collected Joe Gomez’s ball from the right-back position, and played an excellent pass for Salah, who timed his run perfectly and found just the right angle to slide a shot past Jonas Lossl and into the far corner.
For Salah, it was a moment of relief in what has been a testing season.
But Huddersfield, in the relegation zone and without a league win so far this season, responded well and were unlucky not to have equalised by half-time.
Jonathan Hogg struck the post with a fine 25-yard drive as Liverpool failed to clear Erik Durm’s cross, while James Milner escaped a loud penalty appeal when he diverted the ball with his thigh onto his arm.
Right at the end of the first half, Alex Pritchard thought he had ended the Terriers long wait for a home goal, but was rightly ruled offside as he slotted past Alisson following a Hogg header.
Huddersfield continued to threaten after half-time, with Laurent Depoitre –- seeking to end a run of one goal in 27 matches — guiding a header from Florent Hadergjonaj’s cross, which Alisson held comfortably.
Salah remained a threat when Liverpool got the ball to him, and almost added a second goal when he collected Sturridge’s diagonal ball on his chest and steered a shot just beyond the far post.
Lallana, still getting back to the pace of Premier League football after a series of injuries, came off with just over 20 minutes left to be replaced by Fabinho, making his Premier League debut after a £39 million ($51 million, 44 million euros) move from Monaco.
The visitors still had to survive a scare after that, with Steve Mounie diverting fellow substitute Isaac Mbenza’s cross over the bar on the turn as Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren both failed to clear, but Liverpool got the job done.